The choice has always been, as a former chair of the Nobel Peace Prize judging committee explained in 2001, " a political act." This year it was also an ingenious leap of faith– the endorsement of the hope and the promise represented by America’s new President. Of course, it was also a pointed rebuke to the unilateral recklessness of the Bush administration, with its aversion to international organizations and diplomacy. (As were the awards given to former President Jimmy Carter and Vice-President Al Gore.)
Perhaps the Committee, in welcoming Obama’s re-embrace of the global community, should have also honored the millions of Americans who voted for Obama –and who, in so doing, helped redeem America’s image.
I think those who argue that the Prize is cheapened are just plain silly. The Prize doesn’t go to only those who have succeeded in their efforts, nor is it a lifetime achievement award. Instead, it is often and wisely given to endorse and encourage those who are working to bring about a better and more peaceful world. As Thorbjorn Jagland, the Committee’s new Chair, said: "It’s important for the committee to recognize people who are struggling and idealistic, but we cannot do that every year. We must from time go into the real of realpolitik. It is always a mix of idealism and realpolitik that can change the world."
Finally, for those who are really worried about the devaluing of the Peace Price (and this crowd includes people who’ve been bashing peace for decades), remember that Henry Kissinger is a previous winner. (Or, as Maureen Dowd put it, " Any peace prize that goes to Henry Kissinger but not Gandhi ain’t worth a can of Alpo.")
Many domestic commentators have also obsessed over the Peace Prize’s political liability for Obama. A cynical type, arguing in the Washington Post, wrote, " if the international community thinks so highly of him, perhaps it is because he shares their ultra-liberal agenda; perhaps it is because he cares more deeply about global causes than vital US interests." This kind of thinking reveals the zero-sum mindset –the dangerous fusion of US exceptionalism and provinicialism –which has caused this country and the world so much trouble and insecurity.
In other parts of the world, more humane and wiser comments have been circulating. The other evening, I received some optimistic, insightful thoughts from Pierre Schori, the former UN Ambassador from Sweden and Olof Palme’s close adviser. " I think this decision was bold and ingenious.Obama gives us breathing-space in a dangerous world where there are too many trigger-happy people. He inspires hope for the many dispossessed, but also to us who are worried about how dangerous crises are handled. While meeting resistance at home from some quarters, the governments of Europe keep their mouth shut when he is trying to dialogue with Iran, Cuba and Venezuela and deal with the Middle East, etc. He has started the exit from Iraq. He is a new kind of American President, a cosmopolit (sic) with the world on his mind. While sitting in meetings with his advisers on Afghanistan, the Prize will hopefully help him to a wise decision. He did a great thing for peace beating Bush and McCain….Now America, with Obama in the White House, we are all better off and safer. His visit to the UN bears evidence of this–he has paid all debts to the UN, he got the Security Council to adopt a statement on nuclear-free world and promised support to UN peace-keeping which is in deep crisis, He has started processes that we all now need to support as world citizens."
I value Schori’s thoughts. Of course, there are people who are angered by this decision because they rightly worry that the President is poised to further escalate an unnecessary and destructive war in Afghanistan. They believe he is all words and, as of yet, very few deserving deeds. What seems clear is there is much ahead to do —and much to earn– if the Committee’s decision is to be validated. Obama himself acknowledged the roads not yet taken in his graceful acceptance remarks. "Let me be clear, I do not view this award as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations…..I will accept this award as a call to action…."
Perhaps we should think of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize as the strategic Nobel. Its strategy is to strengthen Obama’s resolve to work for a nuclear weapons free world; strengthen his campaign promises to engage Iran and North Korea; and provide momentum to find a non-military path to ending the war in Afghanistan.